Youngsters are curious creatures. They will engage in new styles of learning with excitement. Technology enabled classrooms to undergo a seismic shift in the teacher – pupil relationship. Smart boards replaced dumb black boards. Pupils stacked in rows learning the same lesson has begun to shift toward pupils on personalized learning tracks with teacher participation rather than teacher domination. Therein is the big challenge; how do you get the adults on board?
“At the teacher level, it is a huge paradigm shift,” says Matchbook Learning founder and CEO Sajan George, who developed his model after spending years designing corporate–style turnarounds of big city schools that have the worst academic performance records. George discussed the Matchbook blended learning model at the Foundation’s May 23 leadership breakfast in Atlanta.
“You’re a teacher. You’ve been trained in the college of education and you’ve been taught you are the sage on stage,” George said. “You’re the master of your domain. You control the pace, the sequence, the content. Today, class, we’re going to study chapter one. Tomorrow we’re going to study chapter two. Next Thursday we’re going to have a test.”
George said in traditional learning the teacher has an “all eyes on me” comfort zone. But in the blended learning world – personalized online instruction supplemented with student–teacher sessions – kids learn at different paces and there is no single classroom plan for everyone. Kids move ahead when ready, not when it is convenient for the teacher or the school calendar.
“They’re accessing different content, different assessments, they’re learning different standards at different times,” George said. “That feels very chaotic. If kids need a personalized approach on how they learn, teachers need a personalized approach as well. Different teachers have different strengths.” (Watch Sajan George on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s YouTube channel.)
Five Georgia Board of Education board members were on hand to hear George describe the four components of the Matchbook Learning blended classroom. Those are an individualized learning path, a teacher-led path, a group project path and finally, an assessments path that enables teachers to assess whether a student has mastered skills necessary to advance to a next level. The four paths are simultaneous and skills are being constantly measured.
George began his career as a corporate turn-around specialist. During his corporate years he became engaged with a St. Louis public schools turn-around request. That experience caused him to leave the corporate world to establish Matchbook Learning. He has consulted with public school systems in several cities that include New Orleans, New York, Detroit and St. Louis.
Matchbook targets the lowest performing schools, those that perform in the bottom five percent academically because, George says, “They are so fundamentally broken that nobody is willing to hold onto the status quo. If we don’t design a system of education that meets the needs of our neediest children we’ll never have a public education system that meets the needs of all children.” (Click here to learn more about Matchbook Learning.)
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgia’s track record as a low-tax, pro-business, pro-growth state is absolute. However, the state has been unable to enact an important threshold – elimination or at least a sizable reduction in the 6 percent maximum personal income tax rate – and that prevents Georgia from being considered at the top of states that have low-tax, pro-growth fiscal policies.
Today the American Legislative Council released its sixth annual “Rich States, Poor States” economic competitiveness index report that evaluates states on 15 fiscal policy sectors that include tax rates, state regulations, right-to-work laws and size of the public workforce as a percentage of statewide population. The ALEC formula rewards low-taxing, low-spending states, of which Georgia is one.
Georgia does well … ranked as the eighth best state nationally and up two spots from one year ago. But therein is part of the challenge. Georgia ranked eighth in the first ALEC report five years ago, then slipped several spots and only now has it reclaimed the eighth spot ranking.
To see that idea from another angle, ALEC does not consider Georgia has done enough with tax and regulation policies in five years to greatly improve its ranked position vs. other states.
“Georgia has become one of the most Republican states in the country and it’s also become a very fiscally conservative state over the last 10 and 20 years,” said co-author Stephen Moore, during an ALEC conference call this week. “If there’s a state that could eliminate its income tax it would be Georgia. The table is set for that. We’ve been pushing it for a long time.”
The 2010 Georgia Special Council on Tax Reform recommended elimination of most personal income tax deductions and adoption of the lowest possible revenue neutral income tax rate with 4 percent as the original target. The Legislature has never come closer than almost voting on a bill that would have reduced the maximum personal income tax rate to 4.5 percent. There was no personal income tax reform legislation during this year’s General Assembly.
Nine states do not collect personal income tax. “I’ve always thought Georgia should be the next domino to fall especially because, who are your neighbors?” said Moore, who is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. “You’ve got Florida and Tennessee, both which have no income tax. You’re what we call an income tax sandwich. You’re sandwiched between two states that don’t have (state personal income tax) so that puts you at a competitive disadvantage.”
Moore, ALEC’s Jonathan Williams and economist Arthur Laffer are the co-authors. “Georgia can do some other things that would not necessarily cost from a revenue perspective,” said Williams, who is director of ALEC’s Center for State Fiscal Reform. He cited additional pension plan reform, requiring a super majority legislative vote for tax increases, and mandatory government spending limits, along with reduced state liability and workmen’s compensation costs.
The 2013 edition of ”Rich States, Poor States” also highlights funding and obligation problems posed by public sector pension plans, which the non-partisan State Budget Solutions says are underfunded by some $4.6 trillion. Williams said the federal government recently filed suit against Illinois “for basically fraudulent pension accounting. We find that issue in a lot of states.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Click here to read “Rich States, Poor States.” Click here to watch Stephen Moore speak to the Policy Foundation 2013 annual dinner on the Foundation YouTube channel.)
Imagine this scenario: An automaker prepares to launch a new car amid much fanfare. The car launches to modest immediate success and then it flops. This is a real story. The Ford Edsel was an epic failure because Ford was wearing blinders in its commitment to the Edsel. Had the company listened to consumers it would have known that auto owner tastes were changing and the Edsel was no longer what people wanted. Edsel was the wrong car at the wrong time.
It’s all about data. Business has known for generations that the most successful launches and ongoing companies are those that constantly absorb data, intently study what it contains, reach unemotional conclusions about what it means, and establish a focus armed with knowledge.
You might think that would also be second nature to education but not so much.
“We use data in all other sectors. It’s new in education,” says Paige Kowalski, director of state policy initiatives at the Data Quality Campaign, a non-profit education think tank in Washington, D.C. Kowalski told an Atlanta conference this week that although some believe data is ‘the hammer, you’re going to get punished with it,” she prefers to think data is the “flashlight to really be able to shine a light on what we are doing well and where we need to improve.”
The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education brought Kowalski to Atlanta for its spring forum, “Data Driven Decisions – Dynamic & Daunting.” GPEE President Stephen Dolinger opened the conference with this observation, “We have wallowed in a land of not having the data that we need but we are on the front now in Georgia and that’s a good thing.”
Bob Swiggum spent 27 years at Georgia-Pacific where he was VP of Information Technology. Three years ago he crossed into public sector education to help the state rethink everything it knew – or at least whatever the state thought it knew – about how to use data analysis to produce better experiences for students both during and after their K-12 education years.
Swiggum received less than a warm reception from local public school systems who thought they had seen this horse ride into town before. “We went out to the districts and said; what do you want?” Swiggum told the GPEE conference. “They wrote me what I call an eleven-page epistle. It was ten pages of what they didn’t want and one page of what they did want. Pretty much they didn’t want the state to get involved in their stuff.”
Today the state is very involved. Swiggum has appeared before more than 150 groups to explain how a suite of new digital products will help learning professionals and parents more precisely understand what student groups and individual students need to achieve success.
Data that originates with local district annual reports is housed on state servers and can be recalled as fully collated information. District leaders can recall data on schools, the schools on their classrooms, and teachers can sort individual data. Identity is protected where data needs to remain anonymous. It is now possible to assemble and make easily accessible a student’s entire public school academic history in Georgia. This is an enormous benefit in today’s mobile environment; for example, the annual student turnover is 30 percent in Atlanta schools.
“Data is an onion,” says Rubye Sullivan, Atlanta Public Schools director of research and evaluation for school improvement. “A metric is just the number at the top. Knowing a number does not give you action. You have to begin to peel back the onion.” Sullivan said that historically public schools have not been very good at having or interpreting their data.
“We now understand that students in the ninth grade who fail both math and English are nine times more likely to be a dropout,” Sullivan said at the GPEE conference. “We didn’t have the data before to be able to unpack it in a way where we truly could pinpoint this group of students, where their risk factors were, provide that information back to counselors or graduation coaches to turn that data into action. It is the power of big data and education coming together.”
The ability to track how students perform academically after high school, especially when they attend state universities and colleges, should have a positive impact on K-12 preparation. “If students leave us and we don’t know what happens to them we’re not able to build our school goals,” said Brian Cook, head counselor at Morgan County High School.
Here is the challenge: Take any sample group of 100 Georgia high school students and just 67 will graduate. One-third never graduate. Eleven who enroll in higher education will graduate from four-year schools after four years and just two from technical colleges after two years.
“This is not what we wanted for our state,” said Mary Ann Charron, chief program officer at the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement. GLISI managed a pilot project that brought ten public school teams and the technical college system together, to focus on better preparation for student post-secondary choices. That’s what this is all about.
(Footnote: the Ford Edsel debuted in 1958. Production was canceled after 1960 when Ford manufactured fewer than 2,850 Edsels. About 34,000 Edsels were never sold to anyone!)
YouTube Paige Kowalski Presentation
YouTube Bob Swiggum Presentation
YouTube Georgia Partnership Panel Conversation
Website for the State Department of Education Longitudinal Data Systems Project
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Louisiana Court Rejects Funding Formula; Texas Lawmakers Reject Choice
This week’s Louisiana Supreme Court opinion that struck down a school choice funding formula finds the usual suspects who want to prevent families from using their tax-paid dollars to send their children to the schools of their choice. As we saw in Georgia, people who stand in opposition to expanded school choice believe the money belongs to them, which is a big brother knows best mentality.
Some Louisiana background: The state was in education chaos before Hurricane Katrina swept through eight years ago. The unanticipated blessing from that life changing hurricane was that it gave the state, communities and families an opportunity to rebuild horrible school systems, notably in New Orleans.
Especially during current Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure Louisiana has started to reinvent education with the idea that when you start with a clean slate, you might improve over what was there earlier.
This, of course, is a free market education idea so it stands to reason that people who want to continue the big-brother-knows-best mentality would be none too pleased at bolder and fresher ideas. One among several ideas was Jindal’s creation of a voucher scholarship program that provided 5,000 low income students the opportunity for expanded school choice somewhere other than their local brick-and-mortar neighborhood school. Louisiana Scholarship Program enrollment for next fall would be 8,000 students or about two-thirds of all pupils who applied.
You can guess who got uptight and went to court; that would be the associations that represent Louisiana teachers and public school system boards of education. These are the same kinds of organizations that went to court in Georgia after the 2008 General Assembly created a path and the funding formula for expanded charter school options. In Georgia, you can throw in the very vocal association for state superintendents that fought furiously to overturn the state law.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled against the creation of a charter schools alternate authorizer. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled against the vouchers funding formula without making a comment on school choice proper, but the effect unless somehow remedied would be to reduce options for families. Georgia lost its leadership position on school choice but fortunately last November voters here sent a different message when they reinstated the idea of an alternate authorizer, meaning a new State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia that began its work this spring.
Louisiana’s Governor – who many believe has White House aspirations – issued a statement that tried to assure families the state budget will find the money to keep choice alive although Jindal’s initial statement did not provide any additional detail about how to make that possible.
School choice – the bigger idea of it at all – is no longer in question. Whatever you think about the current White House administration, the President, the Department of Education and the Republican and Democratic national party platforms are all on board with school choice. There are still those trying to erect roadblocks and overall, school choice work certainly is not done.
The appetite for new aggressive school choice legislation was limited during this year’s Georgia General Assembly. Most wind went out of the sails after last year’s bitterly contested effort that resulted in the constitutional amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved last November. An enhanced tax credit scholarship bill passed, as did a clean-up of the existing special needs scholarship. A “parent trigger bill” that would allow parents or school personnel the right to convert failing traditional public schools to charter schools passed the House.
What legislatures and state courts are doing with school choice across the country is a muddle. School choice advocates in Texas cannot get their bills through the House which rejected a bill last month. This legislative recalcitrance goes against the grain of Texans. A Texas Public Policy Foundation study published last week said two-thirds of Texans favor the creation of statewide education scholarships and 72 percent favor business tax credits for private schools.
Contrast the Louisiana and Georgia judicial experiences with Indiana where the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously – the vote was 5-0 – in April that public tax dollars could be used to fund private school tuition. The Louisiana Supreme Court vote was nearly unanimous – 6-1 to strike down using public tax dollars to fund private school tuition in a vouchers program.
Families must be allowed to use their tax-paid dollars to send their children to the schools of their choice. Not the government’s choice, not the choice of school boards or unions that represent teachers. It is their choice, the folks who actually paid the tax dollars. Keep Choice Alive!
(Click here to read the new Friedman Foundation analysis “A Win-Win Solution — The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” that examines the impact on students and communities. Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
This idea is almost too obvious: Fix families and you might alleviate pressure on overburdened state justice systems as there might be fewer folks showing up in juvenile and adult criminal courts. This week the Campaign for Youth and Justice echoed that idea in a new report that states:
“Given the history of the juvenile justice system, which has historically kept families at arm’s length, coupled with organizational and fiscal challenges facing agencies today, it is not surprising that many justice systems are struggling to meet the needs of families.”
The Family Comes First executive summary further states that despite legitimate efforts to improve outcomes, “what has been missing is a vision of what a transformed justice system looks like when that vision honors and supports families before and after their children have contact with the system.”
Sound familiar? It should. Last week Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told me that dysfunctional families are the primary reason that juveniles enter delinquency and in the worst cases commit crimes of such serious nature that they are charged as adults.
Teske targeted the proliferation of single parent dynamics and parents with weak problem solving skills. Teske served on the 2012 Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and he was a leading architect of its juvenile recommendations that were signed into law last week by Governor Nathan Deal. (Click here to watch Teske on YouTube or click here to read the article.)
The Campaign for Youth and Justice offers several recommendations that you will already find in Georgia juvenile justice reform legislation signed last week by Governor Deal. For instance one idea in Family Comes First would be, “states should develop fiscal strategies to fund prevention, diversion, and family and community-based programs .”
Another Family Comes First recommendation is the adoption of improved assessment tools, again, an idea advanced for two years by Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in adult corrections reforms adopted last year and again this spring in HB 242, the juvenile justice reforms legislation.
The Family Comes First executive summary states, “In the past few years, the juvenile justice field has made major strides in elevating the importance of family involvement to overall system reform efforts. We have come a long way even though we have far to go.” It says families must have improved access to basic information.
My view: This makes sense as you don’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it. No doubt, a first encounter with the juvenile justice system can become a dizzying experience.
One of the primary architects of the special council recommendations that became the basis for this year’s juvenile justice reform legislation says the primary reason that thousands of juveniles enter the legal system each year is because they come from dysfunctional families.
“Most of the kids we’re seeing today in most courts are kids in which we have broken families, most of them have single parents, most of those are mothers and there are poor or very weak problem solving skills, not just among the young people but also their parents,” Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation this week.
Last year Governor Nathan Deal added Teske to the reconstituted Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform to capitalize on his expertise. On Thursday, Deal said Teske “is regarded by many people as the true expert on juvenile justice matters” when the Governor was in Dalton to sign HB 242, this year’s massive juvenile justice and civil code rewrite legislation.
”We are seeing more and more parents coming into court saying, I cannot handle my child anymore, I want you to take my child, I want you to do something with my child,” Teske said during an interview after the legislation signing ceremony. “I’ve had some parents … too many parents … demand that I lock their kid up, demand that I commit them to the state.”
Teske has served in the Clayton County juvenile courts since 1999. He is past president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and a frequent national speaker on this subject. Teske said Clayton County has reduced juvenile detention commitments 43 percent over ten years but more than half who enter juvenile detention are there because of family dysfunction.
“We are having a lot of low risk kids who have very high needs because of family dysfunction going into these (youth detention centers) with razor wire fences,” Teske said. “They don’t belong here. We’re making them worse, resulting in a 65 percent recidivism rate when they get out.” (Click here to watch my interview with Judge Teske on YouTube.)
Governor Deal’s signature Thursday morning on HB 242 continues a sweeping review that has seen the state literally change its adult and juvenile corrections course in two years. Georgia has traditionally been a hard-on-crime state that emphasized locking people up, mixing hard-core and soft-core inmate populations and giving little thought to successful community re-entry. (Click here to watch the Governor’s remarks on YouTube.)
These criminal justice philosophies were consistent with tough-on-crime standards that became dominant nationally in the 1980′s and 1990′s as politicians responded to what they viewed as the desire of their communities to put criminals away as quickly as possible for as long as possible. What that trend did not recognize was that mental illness, substance abuse and other factors meant this one-size-fits-all approach really did not fit at all.
Therefore, it was not surprising when refined data analysis began to show that adults released from prisons and youths released from detention were coming back at alarming rates. Here in Georgia, the rate was one-in-three adults re-incarcerated within three years and the numbers were even worse for juveniles, one-in-two were re-adjudicated of a juvenile offense or charged with an adult crime within three years.
“If you have one-out-of-three adult offenders return to your prison system within three years you can’t say you are keeping society safe nor (can you say) that you are spending and saving the money of the taxpayers,” Deal said on Thursday in Dalton. The cost to incarcerate one adult inmate is $18,000 per year and much higher in the juvenile sector, about $90,000 per year.
Twenty-eight months after Deal’s inauguration, the state now has in place adult and juvenile justice policies that emphasize incarceration for serious and violent offenders and a range of alternative treatment options for non-violent persons, especially those who have mental illness or substance abuse challenges. In addition, the state is more focused on veterans’ courts.
Overall, the state predicts adult and juvenile justice reforms will save taxpayers $349 million over five years — $264 million in the adult sector and the remainder in juvenile justice. Deal also said Thursday that implementing community-based alternative treatment programs will mean the state should not need to build two new juvenile detention centers.
The next fiscal year budget that kicks in on July 1 includes $5 million in state dollars to help communities start voluntary alternative treatment programs for juveniles. “If we can save money on one end it will allow us to use the money on the front end,” Deal said. He targeted substance abuse and family counseling programs as priorities. “We believe by doing that we can save them early in the process and not have them move into the arena as an adult offender.”
Another feature of this year’s Georgia reforms include a relaxation of adult minimum mandatory sentencing in limited circumstances where judges are given sentencing discretion in some very specific cases, or where judge, prosecutors and defense counsel are in agreement. Deal said it makes sense for the state to avoid imposing “undue and long punishments for folks where the facts certainly don’t justify the mandatory minimum.”
The criminal justice system review that has been underway through the Deal administration will continue long after his tenure as Governor concludes. HB 349 signed last week by Deal creates a new criminal justice council that will remain in place until June 2023. The names of its 15 new members have not been announced by the Governor’s Office.
Clayton County’s Judge Teske also told the Public Policy Foundation he thinks the state should examine the data concerning the number of juveniles who are originally charged in adult courts, but whose cases are transferred to juvenile courts for eventual disposition. “We could save more money and get help to these kids sooner in juvenile court,” Teske said. “I would like to see us start asking these questions as far as continued reforms.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgia’s next justice reform priorities will include expanded digital learning in juvenile sectors and increased focus on transitioning paroled adult inmates back into society with more than a few bucks and a bus ticket. Governor Nathan Deal discussed these priorities during an Atlanta speech on Tuesday, two days before he is scheduled to sign juvenile justice reform legislation.
Deal said the state will partner with Provost Academy Georgia to provide digital learning resources to juveniles, starting with some 140 who participate in the Georgia National Guard Youth Challenge programs at Fort Gordon near Augusta and Fort Stewart in Hinesville.
“These are young men and women who are on the verge of being sent into our juvenile detention system,” Deal said during prepared remarks at the Capital City Club in Atlanta. “We are entering into an agreement with a digital based charter school, Provost, and they are going to be providing the opportunity for these young people to earn a regular high school diploma.” (Click here to watch on YouTube)
Currently, most Youth Challenge juveniles can work toward earning a GED certificate, but not a real high school diploma. Deal predicted the Provost Academy model could be incorporated into the more traditional juvenile justice system which at any point has 22,000 youth either in detention or assigned to a community-based program.
“Young people who have been in trouble have a great deal of difficulty returning to the school which they left before they got in trouble,” Deal told the Atlanta Press Club audience. “All of the social stigma that is associated with it is a huge deterrent for them to just simply drop out.
“If they can take that digital learning opportunity with them back home and they can continue their education without having to physically go back to the school where they have the bad reputation … the chance that they will get a high school diploma and be able to move on with their lives is much greater and we think that is the right thing to do,” the Governor said.
Provost Academy Georgia opened last August with 134 students. Today it serves 1,276 high school students in distance learning structured for independent instruction or blended learning that provides an option to include face-to-face instruction. Provost also operates Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with an Augusta site scheduled to open this month. Provost programs are associated with Edison Learning.
Under the proposed plan, Provost Academy’s initial pilot program will enroll 70 Youth Challenge cadets apiece at Fort Gordon and Fort Stewart, starting in late July, said Provost executive director Monica Henson. “Governor Deal is committed to extending opportunities to needy kids and these are the neediest of the needy,” Henson said. “We really appreciate this opportunity because our mission is to serve historically underserved populations.”
On Thursday, Governor Deal is expected to sign HB 242 that emphasizes incarceration for serious juvenile offenders and less expensive community-based resources for non-violent offenders who are not a public safety risk. These alternative treatment concepts are based on the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations. The bill also includes a massive overhaul of the state’s juvenile civil code. Click here to learn more about juvenile justice reform legislation.
Adult and juvenile justice reforms have been central targets for Deal since his inauguration. The 2011 Legislature established the Special Council whose members produced the 2012 adult laws rewrite and now the 2013 juvenile laws rewrite. For Deal, the finished and proposed work is a recognition that Georgia was at least spinning its wheels, if not going backward.
“We have been a state like many states that had been the hard-on crime approach with very little flexibility built into the system,” Deal said in his Atlanta speech. “We recognized if you were objective about the issue that we were not achieving the results that people expected.”
Specifically, one-in-three paroled adults and one-in-two released juveniles return to the criminal or juvenile justice system within three years. “What we were doing was not the right thing,” Deal said. “It did not keep us safe and it did not save taxpayers money. We were spending over $1 billion a year in our corrections programs and yet, nobody could be proud of those results.”
(Click here to learn more about justice reform on the Pew Charitable Trusts website. Click here for the Right on Crime website at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday signed an adult criminal justice reform bill that revises minimum mandatory sentencing laws, expands the state’s right to evidence appeals and creates a new criminal justice reform council that will remain on-the-watch until 2023. In sum, the state will continue to consider criminal justice best practices for another ten years.
The House Bill 349 signing ceremony was held in Marietta where Deal said, “When I first became Governor I was concerned about something that I was told Republicans shouldn’t really be concerned about and that was the fact that we were the tenth largest state in population but that we had the fourth largest prison population.
“We had had a ‘tough on crime’ stance in this state for many years,” the Governor told Kiwanis members, “not that it was inappropriate but in hindsight I felt it was not achieving the results that we wanted.” (Watch Deal’s remarks on YouTube.)
Two years ago Deal and the General Assembly created a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform that paved the way for last year’s major overhaul of adult criminal justice policies. The door was opened to alternative courts and other ideas that potentially reduce incarceration for non-violent offenders but enable the state to always securely lock away truly violent offenders.
The legislation that Governor Deal signed Thursday revises mandatory minimum sentencing options for some drug cases when the judge believes circumstances do not warrant imposition of the more severe mandatory minimum sentence. HB 349 also gives judges leeway to impose a lesser sentence in sexual offense and serious violence cases when prosecutors and defense counsel agree circumstances do not warrant the more severe mandatory minimum sentence.
House Bill 349 also changes state law that currently requires prosecutors to prove a defendant “knowingly” trafficked drugs of a specific type and weight. After July 1, the date on which the bill takes effect, police and prosecutors will not be required to prove that a drug trafficking defendant knew the weight of illegal drugs. This new drug trafficking prosecution law will then become consistent with simple possession drug laws that passed the General Assembly last year.
On the question of evidence appeals, prosecutors will be allowed a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the state Supreme Court if a lower court excludes prosecution evidence during pre-trial proceedings. This section of HB 349 was not included in the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations. Indeed, it was highly emphasized by the state’s district attorneys and it was included after fairly intense back-and-forth negotiations.
“This bill gives us the ability as prosecutors, when we believe the court has incorrectly ruled on an evidentiary issue, to then take that to the appellate court and have it reviewed,” said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
Some opponents said in legislative hearings that expanded evidence appeals might delay speedy trials. “I don’t believe that’s going to be a huge issue,” Spahos said during an interview. “I don’t believe it’s going to create a large floodgate of appellate cases or interfere with speedy trials.” (Watch the Spahos interview on YouTube .)
Deal will sign juvenile justice reform legislation next week. Like its earlier adult justice system cousin, HB 242 emphasizes community-based local alternative resources for juveniles who are not a public safety threat, underscores the intent to incarcerate violent juveniles and it recreates the state’s antiquated juvenile civil code, especially as it pertains to children in need of services, adoption, dependency cases, parental rights and dozens of other juvenile non-criminal issues.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgians appear ready to embrace juvenile justice reforms that would focus the state’s lock-ups on higher-level offenders and put new emphasis on less expensive and more effective community resources for lower-level offenders. And by Georgians, we mean folks out there in the real world, well beyond the State Capitol in Atlanta.
A newly released poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and the Mellman Group for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project found proposed reforms in HB 242 enjoy widespread support among conservatives, liberals and independents. The bill would enact recommendations from the 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. HB 242 is scheduled for its first Senate hearing on Wednesday; it unanimously passed the House.
The Special Council found that the state’s secure residential facilities cost an average of about $90,000 per bed per year. Despite these huge expenditures, more than 50 percent of the adjudicated youth in the juvenile justice system are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of release.
To address this poor return on investment, the Council produced a set of recommendations that have been included in HB 242 that would revise the juvenile designated felony act, reduce the number of lower-risk youthful offenders sent to secure facilities, emphasize community resources for lower-level juveniles and provide funding to help create or expand local programs.
In the survey, 92 percent of Georgians agreed that expensive facilities should be reserved for higher risk juveniles and alternatives that cost less should be available for lower-risk juveniles.
Governor Nathan Deal made juvenile justice reform a priority in his State of the State address. “Let’s capitalize on the success that we have already had in criminal justice reform,” Deal said with a nod to last year’s adult corrections reform legislation contained in HB 1176. Deal called for “community-based, non-confinement correctional methods for low-risk offenders.”
“Georgians strongly support proposals to reduce the size and cost of the juvenile corrections system and to reinvest savings into effective alternatives to secure facilities,” stated the pollsters in the Pew-commissioned “Public Attitudes on the Juvenile Justice System in Georgia.” Six hundred registered voters participated in the survey.
When pollsters asked whether Georgia should “send fewer lower-risk juvenile offenders to a secure facility and use some of the savings to create a stronger probation system that holds juvenile offenders accountable for their crimes,” the answer was “Yes” from Democrats (91 percent), Republicans (86 percent) and Independents (83 percent).
Sixty-nine percent said strict probation supervision, counseling and remaining with families in their own homes were more likely than secure facilities to reduce the rate at which juveniles would commit new crimes. Again, that was the view of Democrats (76 percent), Independents (68 percent) and Republicans (63 percent).
When asked about specific proposals from the Special Council that are included in HB 242, 92 percent of Georgians agreed the juvenile designated felony act should be rewritten to differentiate between more serious felonies such as murder and less serious offenses such as “smash-and-grab” burglary. Support among voters who identified themselves as Democrats, Republicans or Independents ranged between 90-to-97 percent.
When asked about creating a fiscal incentive grant program to reward counties that send fewer lower-risk juvenile offenders to expensive state facilities by sharing some of the savings to reinvest in local programs – a proposal Governor Deal announced in his State of the State address – 85 percent of Georgians agreed. Again, support was consistently strong among Republicans (89 percent), Democrats (83 percent) and Independents (81 percent).
“Across the political spectrum, Georgians want a system that protects public safety, holds juvenile offenders accountable and contains corrections spending,” said Jason Newman, a public safety expert with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Georgia voters strongly support proposals to reduce the size and cost of the juvenile corrections system and to reinvest savings into effective alternatives.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear HB 242 testimony at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday in room 307 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building at the State Capitol. Adult corrections system reforms that passed the House in HB 349 will be discussed in a Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee hearing that starts at 3:00 p.m., also at the same location.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
- Why School Teachers Are No Longer “Sage on the Stage”
- ALEC: Here’s How Georgia Could Improve Competitiveness
- “Data Is An Onion … You Have to Begin to Peel Back the Onion”
- Big Brother Knows Best Mentality Works Against School Choice
- Georgia’s Intense Focus on Children Sold for Sexual Services
- This Should be Obvious: Fix Families First to Fix Kids
- Broken Families … Parents Without Skills … Kids in Juvenile Justice
- Digital Learning, Re-Entry Lead List of Criminal Justice Priorities
- Second Adult Criminal Justice Reform Bill Becomes Law
- Pew Poll: Solid Real World Support for Juvenile Justice Reform
- Georgia Public Schools Employ More Staff Than Teachers
- Georgia House Passes Juvenile Justice Bill 173-0